A judge has urged Nova Scotia corrections officials to move an 18-year-old convicted murderer out of an adult jail where he's been held in virtual isolation for a year after he attacked guards at his youth facility.
On Wednesday, the teen's defence lawyer called Judge Anne Derrick's comments in the case a "call for action," while a Canadian senator weighed in and said it was "shocking" that a youth would be held in segregation.
The teen was 15 when in August 2014 he stabbed to death 28-year-old Daniel Pellerin in a Dartmouth parking lot. He subsequently pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was given an intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision (IRCS) sentence, which included four years at the youth detention centre in Waterville.
Such sentences, which can be handed to youth convicted of serious crimes, means they are placed in a facility with more rehabilitative resources than an ordinary jail.
One Waterville official has since told the court that the offender — known only as B.P. in court documents due to a publication ban — is "probably the most high-risk youth we've ever dealt with."
Authorities applied to make his transfer to an adult jail permanent, but the effort was turned down by Derrick last week. In a written decision released this week, the judge said if this is indeed one of the most challenging IRCS cases in Nova Scotia, "then it must be resourced to the fullest extent available."
"This is a pull-out-all-the-stops case," Derrick wrote. "It is a think-outside-the-box case."
The ruling is one of the last Derrick made in youth court before she assumes a new role as a justice on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
While she denied the request to permanently place B.P. in an adult jail, she acknowledged she could not order corrections officials to return him to Waterville.
The sentence has proven difficult for those supervising the teen. In September 2016, B.P. took part in a violent assault on staff at Waterville. Three workers were seriously injured in the confrontation; two of them suffered concussions and broken bones, while a third required reconstructive surgery on his jaw.
The teen pleaded guilty to those assaults and is to be sentenced next month.
'Lost in the system'
Following the attack, B.P. was transferred to the adult provincial jail in Pictou. He's been held since then in a transitional section of the jail in what Derrick describes as "social isolation," with no contact with other prisoners.
"Justice Derrick's decision is, I think, is a call for action on his situation," the teen's lawyer, Claire McNeil, said in an interview. "Up to now, I think, he's felt a bit ignored and basically lost in the system. And now he has a reason for some hopefulness."
However, McNeil said authorities have not told her whether her client will be transferred back to Waterville.
"It's kind of a tragic situation: this young person where so much had been promised and so little delivered in the last year," McNeil said.
Senator Kim Pate, a leading advocate for prisoners' rights, weighed in on the case Wednesday.
"The United Nations considers the use of solitary confinement of youth and those with mental health issues as torture," she said in a statement. "The fact that Nova Scotia correctional authorities have re-segregated the youth in the face of Justice Derrick's decision is shocking."
The judge noted in her decision that the teen has not been receiving the specialized treatment in Pictou that he was getting in Waterville. She also raised doubts about whether he could receive the treatment he needs at any other detention facility in the province.
The judge's decision also left little doubt that the teen requires intensive support if he is ever to be successfully reintegrated into society.
"Mr. B.P. has shown that he remains a high risk for serious violence and aggression," Derrick wrote. "His distorted thinking, pro-criminal attitudes and values continue to influence him.
"An IRCS sentence was identified as offering the best chance of addressing and moderating, through a lengthy period of intensive therapeutic interventions, Mr. B.P.'s complex behavioural and psychological profile."
'He is in limbo'
B.P.'s time at Waterville has been marked by both successes and setbacks. At times, staff told court, he was enthusiastically engaged in the intensive combination of education, counselling and work experience.
At other times, he was withdrawn and hostile. And throughout his time at Waterville, there was an underlying current of violence. Staff testified about several episodes before the violent attack last year.
In rejecting the bid to keep B.P. in an adult facility, Derrick said it was not in the public interest. She said the public interest would be best served by getting the teen the treatment he needs.
"He is in limbo, there's no question about it," McNeil said. "Where does this decision leave him?
"The judge has made it really clear she doesn't have the power to send him back to Waterville even though she says it's in his best interest and it's in the public interest for him to go back there."